Last weekend I drove down to Longwood Gardens near Kennett Square, PA to see my friend in a play. It was a gorgeous Saturday night, not too hot, not too cold. My directions took me through some of the rolling back roads of the Pennsylvania countryside, through the Brandywine River Valley. Ah! It was breathtaking! How come I’ve never been down in that neck of the woods before?
As I was driving, I remembered that this was the area where the M. Knight Shyamalan film The Village was supposedly set (and filmed, I believe). As soon as the thought struck me, I smiled. I’ve only seen the film once and someone had spoiled the plot twist for me before the show started, but I have always said that I would have absolutely been one of those people who started and/or lived in The Village.
Okay, so at this point we all know I’m a history apologist. I am convinced that life before modern conveniences wasn’t as bad as some people like to make it out to be. And sometimes, when I’m listening to the news or my coworkers talking about reality TV or sampling any part of modern pop culture, I long for the ability to go backwards and live a simpler life. Yes, this simpler life did not involve toilet paper, but come on! In the grander scheme of plusses and minuses, how badly do we really need modern conveniences?
If there’s one thing that the wonderful PBS reality shows from the late 1990s and early 2000s—1900 House, Victorian House, Frontier House, Colonial House, and my personal favorite, Regency House Party—taught us, it’s that once you get used to living by a different set of rules, you appreciate the unique treasures of past eras. That and the fact that people in past eras did have versions of deodorant, plumbing, and, yes, toilet paper. You learn that it isn’t the things that matter, it was the sense of community and togetherness that our modern world has taken from us. I would rather chat with a neighbor about, well, other neighbors than listen to newscasters complain about the president or hear about anyone with the name Kardashian.
But I digress.
It has always been a secret dream of mine that once I win a Powerball Lottery or two, I want to build my own historic village. I love Colonial Williamsburg and Plymouth Plantation, I worked for two summers at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, and I’d love to take all of those things, buy a big stretch of land a la The Village, and make an historic town. Here’s how I’d do it.
First of all, I’d build a collection of houses and other buildings using an architectural style from around the middle of the 19th century. I’d model it after a small town, with a community building, a school, a church, maybe some shops, and a bunch of houses. Most of them would be historically accurate, but a few would be equipped with every modern convenience you could think of, disguised so that they weren’t obvious. These special buildings would be the “safe houses” of the village.
Next I’d stock my village with historical experts, re-enactors, and experts in 19th century crafts and processes. I would also staff it with college interns looking for history credits. Why? Because someone has to teach the guests how to act like 19th century people. (And I’d make the college kids earning credits be the servants.)
That’s when I’d open the doors for visitors. You would be able to come stay in my village for various lengths of time: 2 weeks, a month, or all summer. After a few introductory training days, you would be given a persona and set up in one of the houses as if it were your own. Then, for however long you were staying, you would live as if you’d gone back in time. No electricity, authentic dress, authentic plumbing, authentic food, and classes and organized activities that you would have engaged in during the historical time period. There would be balls, tea parties, recreation of political and other news-worthy events of the year, and maybe even some special guests.
If you noticed that I didn’t specify which year this endeavor was replicating, that’s because it would change from year to year. Maybe we would be in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War one year or deep in the 1880s the next year, or celebrating the turn of the 20th century in yet another year. That way people could come back and live in a variety of different times and try out different tasks, jobs, and entertainments to fit the period.
Ah, you see why I would have to win at least one Powerball to set this place up? I think it could be really popular though. Like I said, history students could work there for college credit. Teachers could work there as well, not to mention actors, librarians, craftsmen, and anyone with a hankering to immerse themselves in a different era. It would be awesome! And I would live there year-round, lost in history, writing from experience.
So who’s with me? Who’s going to come visit me in this historical playground? What era would you like to live in and who can we hire to come visit and share their expertise?